With the world being what it is and kids moving in and school starting and two of my classes for the semester getting canceled, I feel the need for comfort food this week. Sunday at Supper Club, I made chicken and dumplings (that post coming later this week, along with a vegan version that I not-so-secretly think is better). Last night, on what would have been my first night of classes, I stayed home and built my own casserole. I used to use this skill a lot when I was in college because 1) it’s highly cost effective, and 2) it lets you use up ingredients of which you have a freakish abundance.
Enter The Zucchini.
(Guest appearance by the Gosdins’s Swarley. Observe cat-to-zucchini ratio)
The vegetable pictured above is not the actual one I used last night. The one pictured met its fate in the form of zucchini mini-pizzas, each slice serving as the crusts.
That’s right. I have been the possessor of two such items in the last few weeks. My sister and brother-in-law have been equally blessed. This is what happens when a certain someone is retired and has the idea to “see how big they will grow.”
What is one to do when one is in possession of such a gargantuan courgette? Casserole time.
To build your own casserole, you will need a fair amount of each of these things:
- a grain
- a protein
- something that binds/moistens (somewhat optional – see discussion below)
It’s also a good idea to have something to top it with. This is not essential, but it makes it look pretty. It also adds a little flavor.
For my casserole, I used brown rice, ground beef, zucchini and onions, and shredded cheese as both binder and topper.
I know that my casserole is not anything close to vegan, despite the tag, but the basic guidelines give you something to work with. As I normally have no meat in the house, I usually make vegetarian or vegan casseroles. I will use beans as the protein in a vegetarian dish. If I am making it vegan, I will toss the grain in a couple of tablespoons of oil, as that helps it hold together. Holding it together, however, is not at all necessary. It’s really okay if it all falls apart on your plate. So if there is enough moisture in the veggies (true of most vegetables, particularly if you toss them with some tomatoes), you don’t really need anything to keep it from drying out. Dried fruits and chopped nuts make for a pretty topper for a dairy-free dish.
Because I did not have leftover rice, I had to make it anew, so I started that first. While the rice was cooking, I took my trusty knife…
…and started chopping. First, I diced The Zucchini into bite-sized chunks.
It took my large stand-mixer bowl to hold all of them. That is a lot of zucchini. There was just enough room left in the bowl to add one chopped onion.
I browned about a pound of ground beef in my largest skillet (I’ll spare you the picture of that) and then added the vegetables in to saute briefly but mostly to combine the casserole elements.
The casserole is easy to assemble. I just layered the rice, veggie/protein mixture, and cheese twice (i.e., alternating with two layers of each) and baked it. Then it looked like this:
Well, half of it looked like that. There was so much zucchini that I ended up baking a second one in the skillet. I have so much casserole in my life right now.
Casseroles are not pretty foods, but what they lack in aesthetics, they make up for in taste. This one was wildly successful in that endeavor.
So to recap, for those of you who like specifics and don’t want to end up with a spontaneous extra casserole:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Gather – and keep in mind, leftovers make excellent casseroles:
- 2 cups of cooked grain
- 2 cups of cooked protein (e.g., beans or meat or your choice)
- 2 cups of chopped veggies (if frozen, steam first and drain, or your casserole will be soggy)
- 1 cup of shredded cheese (or 2 T oil – I like to use grapeseed oil) – optional
- 1/2 cup of topper (e.g., nuts, dried fruits, more cheese, those french-fried onion strips, cracker or chip crumbs, etc.)
3. Mix protein and veggies together.
4. Layer grain, veggie mixture, and cheese as often as the vessel you’re baking it in can hold it.
5. Sprinkle topper after final layer.
6. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.
And there you have it! A money-saving, belly-filling, abundance-producing, comfort food meal. Enjoy!